LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister David Cameron on Tuesday urged Ukraine to turn back towards Europe, a spokesman for the British leader said, paving the way for the revival of a shelved trade agreement between Kiev and the European Union.
Cameron's comments came after Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov resigned and deputies loyal to President Viktor Yanukovich, acting to calm violent street protests, back-tracked and overturned anti-protest laws they rammed through parliament 12 days ago.
A source familiar with Cameron's thinking said his intervention was meant to send a message to the Ukrainian people that the door to a stalled trade agreement with the EU remained open if they wanted it.
"We have been very concerned about the violence and believe that the previous enactment of legislation which puts restrictions on fundamental freedoms was a serious mistake," a spokesman for Cameron told Reuters, calling the protest law's repeal a step in the right direction.
"President Yanukovich needs to put Ukraine back on the path to a more stable and secure European future."
The EU said in December it was suspending further work with Ukraine on the ambitious trade and cooperation agreement because the government in Kiev had failed to give a clear commitment to signing the deal.
Ukraine had been expected to sign the agreement, but Yanukovich turned his back on the accord at the last minute in favour of closer ties with Moscow, leading to mass protests in Kiev.
EU policy makers have been worried by what they see as Ukraine's drift back into Russia's orbit. Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, is due to arrive in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, on Tuesday evening.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague spoke to his Ukrainian counterpart on Friday, while David Lidington, Britain's Europe Minister, last week summoned the Ukrainian Charge d'Affaires in London to express his deep concern about the handling of protests in which six people have been killed.
(Reporting by Andrew Osborn and William James; Editing by Andrew Osborn)